- X-Men (2000; 20th Century Fox / Marvel Studios): This straddles the line between good and merely decent. We'll call it a win, though because it was a relative commercial success and had a lot of good stuff in it. (It's also the first successful team-up/group superhero flick that I can think of.)
- Spider-Man (2002; Columbia Pictures / Marvel Studios): Just a great, great superhero origin movie that really sticks true to the heart of the character. There's really nothing to complain about here. (I could quibble with killing off Norman Osborn, but it set up the second film so well that I think it was the right thing to do.)
- Daredevil (2003; 20th Century Fox / Marvel Studios): Ben Affleck is horribly miscast in this flick. (His good buddy Matt Damon, as the Bourne movies can attest, would've been a fine choice.) It has some classic Daredevil imagery in it, but the plot just sort of meanders about and doesn't really have anything to say about anything (to the best of my recollection).
- X-Men 2 (2003; 20th Century Fox / Marvel Studios): This remains (barring some repeat Iron Man viewings) my favorite comic book superhero movie to date. It does lose some points for Cyclops remaining an underused character and Professor X once again being taken off the board (knocked into a coma in the first one and manipulated and abused in the second), but everything else that's there is just so note-frigg'n-perfect that in the end I don't care. I so want to see the X-Men 3 movie that director Bryan Singer set up in this film, rather than the wasted POS that we eventually got.
- Hulk (2003; Universal Studios / Marvel Studios): I didn't hate this as much as other people, but it was, without question, a pedestrian, meandering film. I really hope Marvel Studios manages to do better with the upcoming re-do, though the trailers haven't done much for me so far.
- The Punisher (2004; Artisan Entertainment / Marvel Studios): Didn't see it and the general consensus is I don't need to. A great big F for this one.
- Spider-Man 2 (2004; Columbia Pictures / Marvel Studios): This one may in fact be a better overall film than X-Men 2. I just like that film better for personal reasons. A crappy Peter Parker musical interlude aside (when his life is all great and shit because he's no longer Spider-Man), this is pretty much a perfect Spider-Man story. I wasn't convinced Doc Oc would make a good on-screen villain, but man was I wrong. Spidey 2 was also like X-Men 2 in that it setup up a lot of really promising plot points for a third film only to fail miserably when said film came out.
- Elektra (2005; 20th Century Fox / Marvel Studios): Another one I passed on after the buzz indicated this film was a waste of celluloid. I have no regrets about not seeing this.
- Fantastic Four (2005; 20th Century Fox / Marvel Studios): This one looked like a dud from the very first trailer on. And it was. A complete casting and plotting disaster. That guy from the horribly Buffy wannabe TV Show, Charmed, who played Doom should never be allowed in a big budget motion picture again. And frigg'n Jessica Alba as Sue Storm? Here's the deal guys, if your sole criteria when casting Sue Storm is just to get a hot Hollywood hottie, get one that actually fits the part, because when you try to make Alba look like her blonde-haired, blue-eyed comic counterpart, she's no longer a hottie. Frankly, she just looks creepy. Plus, not so much for her with the whole acting thing. I'll give a pass to Chris Evans as Johnny Storm. He looked totally wrong for the part -again, the Storms are Nazi poster children; blonde hair and blue eyes- but he's the only one who sold their performance. (Michael Chiklis was okay, but had almost nothing to work with.) The only perk was the final battle in the last 20 minutes of the flick when the onscreen action really came together and clicked. I had hope it would set up a good sequel..... guess we came up snake-eyes on that role. (You can tell how much I hated this film by how much I just wrote about it.)
- X-Men 3: The Last Stand (2006; 20th Century Fox / Marvel Studios): You had to know this film was in trouble when the directing duties went from the great Bryan Singer (even if Supes Returns was a missed-step, he's still great) to Brett "I make crappy action movies devoid of any substance" Ratner. Here's a little tip to Brett and his writers: when you decide to take on The Phoenix Saga, the most venerable story in X-Men lore - Don't. Fucking. Screw. It. Up. So what did they do? They made it a ridiculous side plot to a more ridiculous (and totally played out) let's rid the world of mutants with our magic syringes of anti-mutancy storyline. The Phoenix is a sideplot to nothing and this film was an unmitigated disaster that didn't deserve nearly the box office returns it got.
- Ghost Rider (2007; Columbia Pictures / Marvel Studios): At some point I'd actually like to see this to see if we're talking about a merely subpar film (Daredevil) or something truly awful (Fantastic Four). The buzz indicates the latter.
- Spider-Man 3 (2007; Columbia Pictures / Marvel Studios): I hate orgasm and stiffy metaphors when talking about movies and games, but damn if the trailers for this didn't give me a pole the size of the Washington Monument. The actual film managed to make that go away right quick. Truth be told, it wasn't bad on the level of X-Men 3. I didn't hate this film with the white hot passion of a thousand suns. I was just very, very disappointed in it. The action, at times, was pretty kick ass, but shoehorning three villains into a film is pretty much never a good idea. No plot point had time to breath, a problem that was made worse with the constant, "Hey, Peter's a dickhead who thinks he's bad ass now," musical interlude insanity. When I heard people say this movie's suckage was caused by director Sam Raimi getting back at the studio for not letting him make the film he wanted to make (the rap is that he was forced to include Venom and Gwen Stacy), I thought they were nuts. After I saw the film, though, I had to acknowledge they might've had a point. I don't think Raimi actually sabotaged Spider-Man 3, but I do think he mailed it in (along with the rest of the cast; who should all be replaced - even Toby Maguire).
- Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007; 20th Century Fox / Marvel Studios): What a complete piece of shit this film was. I actually had some hope for it because of the strong finish from the first movie and a pretty kick ass trailer, but it's just two consecutive hours of lame. When Johnny Storm asks Reed Richards if his Dodge-logo'd Fantasticar has, "got a Hemi," I just about vomited on the person in front of me. The effects were good, but when you take on the Galactus/Silver Surfer storyline from the comics, you damn well better do it right. F#@ing it up like they did in this clusterf$#% of a movie is unforgivable on a level with screwing up the Phoenix storyline in X-Men. Director Tim Story simply should not be making superhero films. He's damn near on the level of Joel "I killed the Batman franchise for a decade" Schumacher.
Near as I can figure, prior to Iron Man, Marvel has put up an abysmal record of 4-9, in which only the first two Spider-Man and X-Men movies were really worth a damn. If you wanted to subdivide between merely subpar and god awful you might give them a record of 4-3-6, with Daredevil, Hulk and Spider-Man 3 in the not quite responsible for the fall of civilization category.
Now, here's the thing: when you look at this list, Marvel franchises have basically been critical (and mostly commercial) flops for the last four years. So how did Iron Man break the streak? My theory is that it's all about Marvel Studios. Marvel may be a bunch of shameless whores (hey, who isn't in the publishing business?), but they know their properties pretty well and they know their audience. And it seems pretty clear they didn't control the production for any of the films in the list above. Fox drove the production of the X-Men film, Sony was in the drivers seat for Spider-Man and so on. Starting with Iron Man, Marvel is producing their films themselves. Paramount is merely distributing them.
Is Marvel being in control of the production of their own properties the golden ticket? If Iron Man is any indication, it certainly could be. You still, though, have to put the right people in the right places. There's no question Marvel knocked the ball out of the park when they tapped Jon Favreau to direct Iron Man.
I think the real barometer will be the forthcoming release of The Incredible Hulk. I've never heard of the director on this one (Louis Leterrier), and the trailers have been less than inspiring, but I'm still holding out hope that this flick will be what Hulk should've been. (I can live with lackluster CG if the scripting and acting are worth a damn.) That said, even if it flops, I wouldn't write off the slate that Marvel has in store. In 2009, for the first time since 2001, Marvel has absolutely nothing coming out in the theaters, but they've got a total of four flicks scheduled for 2010 (Thor and Iron Man 2) and 2011 (Captain America and The Avengers). It could be these first two films are fliers, while they get their ducks in a row for what's coming next. The post-credits cameo from Iron Man would certainly seem to indicate as much (see my last post re: Iron Man).